by Noelle Chesley
Credit: LexnGer (Creative Commons BY-NC 2.0)
As technology has become an inescapable part of most workplaces, it has become ever more important to understand its impact on employees. Using data from two surveys of U.S. workers, Noelle Chesley examines the effects of both personal and job-related technology use. She finds that increased technology use, especially when it extends work into personal life, is linked with higher levels of worker distress. However, it is also associated with gains in productivity, and personal technology use at work may help employees to manage work-related stress.
It’s an old question, really, but an important one — are managerial practices and work design responsible for the behavior of employees? Or does worker engagement and behavior come down to individual personalities, with responsibility thus resting primarily with workers? And what are the impacts on a firm’s financial success?
These questions received newfound attention with the publication of a study conducted by the Gallup organization, based on deceptively interesting survey data. Interesting, because they mirror critical concepts we sociologists of work use in our research. Deceptive, because the report stands as a textbook example of the kind of shallow reasoning that results when analysts proceed without concepts such as power, organizational design, and the normative climate fostered by management.
The report, titled “State of the American Workplace: Employee Engagement Insights for U.S. Business Leaders ” uses data collected from individuals and their employers to show that a variety of factors that Gallup terms “employee engagement” enhance productivity, profitability and customer ratings while reducing accidents, theft, absenteeism, turnover and defects.
David Spencer points to financialized capitalism as the new game in town. He suggests that capital has pursued financial investment strategies, increasing the flexibility of capital, reducing the bargaining power of labor and severing the relationship between production and profit. The latter reduces investment in the real economy, further undermining the need for labor. Spencer is writing from the point of view of the UK, but his basic analysis is consistent with the US experience. Jerry Davis has made an even broader argument for the US, not only has the financial principle replaced production in the strategies of firms and the financial service industry but has become an ascendant value in households and the state.
Ken-Hou Lin and I have been studying financialization’s links to US corporate behavior and think that the analysis of financialization requires recognizing more than two actors – capital and labor. There are varieties of “capital” actors in this game — financial service firms, short-term investors, long-term investors (e.g. pension funds), non-finance big corporations, and main street. There are also varieties of “labor” in our financialized capitalist system – workers, professional-managerial workers, executives and CEOs, and investment brokers. (And then there is the state, where the rules are written, which displays its own heterogeneity beyond the scope of our emerging expertise.) Where you sit in the system determines whether your power has grown of been undermined by financialization.
The latest issue of Work, Employment and Society (27,3) is a special issue celebrating 25 years of publication. It is freely available to all readers until 31 July 2013: http://wes.sagepub.com/content/current
- Reflections on work and employment into the 21st century: between equal rights, force decides, by Mark Stuart, Irena Grugulis, Jennifer Tomlinson, Chris Forde and Robert MacKenzie
- Unsustainable employment portfolios, by John Buchanan, Gary Dymski, Julie Froud, Sukhdev Johal, Adam Leaver and Karel Williams
- Women and recession revisited, by Jill Rubery and Anthony Rafferty
- The nature of front-line service work: distinctive features and continuity in the employment relationship, by Jacques Bélanger and Paul Edwards
- Postfordism as a dysfunctional accumulation regime: a comparative analysis of the USA, the UK and Germany, by Matt Vidal
- Financialization and the workplace: extending and applying the disconnected capitalism thesis, by Paul Thompson
- Finance versus Democracy? Theorizing finance in society, by Sylvia Walby
- Work, employment and society through the lens of moral economy, by Sharon C Bolton and Knut Laaser
- Ethnographic fallacies: reflections on labour studies in the era of market fundamentalism, by Michael Burawoy
- Review of Scott Lash & John Urry The End of Organized Capitalism. Cambridge: Polity Press, 1987, £18.00 pbk, (ISBN: 9780745600697), 248pp, Gibson Burrell, Miguel Lucio Martinez, Ian Greer Response to reviews, Scott Lash and John Urry
- 25 Favourite WES Articles chosen by WES readers, editors and authors
The book’s scope is sweeping: it details a half century of the political landscape of social change and also attends to the micro–organizational and local–levels. In other words, the authors successfully position themselves both on the balcony and the dance floor: The balcony gives them the wide-ranging view, and the dance floor lets them show off the intricate footwork at the local and organizational levels.
In making sense of the desegregation trajectories that have developed since passage of the Civil Rights Act, the book makes highly creative use of social closure theory, applied alongside the shifting American political landscape. The book finds that racial and gender segregation has remained especially pronounced in higher paying industries and occupations (much as closure theory would predict). But the book also finds that organizations that rely on formal professional credentials exhibit a much more level playing field than do firms that rely on less formal markers of skill and expertise. This finding calls for important modifications in social closure theory, since it suggests that educational credentials can enable (and not merely block) access to job rewards among historically excluded groups. This is a vital and important finding. But in presenting these results, the book does not always show us why this pattern is the case. Did the class or racial advantages that white women enjoy give them easier access to credentialing institutions? Was the effect of meritocracy also apparent in industries that rely heavily personnel in STEM fields? Or are the leveling effects of educational credentials limited to professional contexts such as law, accounting, social work and teaching? Arguably, heavily feminized professions account for much of this meritocracy effect. My point is that the nature and sources of the meritocracy trend need more discussion than the authors provide.
In this holiday season, we hear a lot about what people want.
Most kids and many adults want presents of various sorts. Other people may want to lose weight, eat healthier, or exercise more in the new year.
All this attention to what people want reminds me that I want something too. I would like scholars who study work, occupations, and organizations, to spend more time collecting and analyzing what people want from their jobs (i.e., studying work-related preferences). Read More
Matt Vidal’s recent posting raised a number of important issues. One he did discuss is the role of gender—namely the way it patterns where you work—in manufacturing employment.
Like Lata Murti, I, too, have been thinking, teaching, and writing about men and women at work for a long time, and my initial reaction to her story is one of regret for Adam. Nearly simultaneously, though, I think about my own daughter and what my spouse and I expect of the people who care for her. When I look back at the history of her baby-sitters, the majority of them (all but one) were women. And when I’m honest with myself, I’m not sure I can dismiss the possibility that each of those independent decisions was gendered in some way.
It’s an old debate, actually –think back to the 1950s, when a burgeoning literature emerged on the employment effect of automation. Or, think about fictitious portrayals such as Kurt Vonnegut’s Player Piano, which provided a dystopian image of a corporate-dominated society in which paid employment was virtually obsolete. More recently, we’ve seen books by such well-known scholars as Stanley Aronowitz, Jeremy Rifkin, Andre Gorz, and Ulrich Beck, among others, all adopting the Cassandra-like cry: Bid Farewell to Work!